Hey, neighbors! I really love baking. It's relaxing, and it makes me happy. But I'm tragically single and most of my pals are on diets. Ha! So — does anyone need a pie? Maybe you have a birthday coming up (for you or someone else), or a fundraiser, or a fancy dinner, and you're all "I'd love a pie, but who has time to make a darn pie?” I do! And I would love to make you a pie. I'd chat with you about general specs, then I'm on my own. No charge, but you'd have to pick it up at my place. Oh, and I’m not a creepy weirdo — promise! xo
As messages posted to his neighborhood’s Facebook group go, it’s far from the strangest Jack Zimmermann has seen (that one belongs to a callout post from a woman who feels “personally threatened” by her neighbor’s weeping angel statue, whatever that means) but it’s definitely one of the more intriguing. It’s also fairly relevant, as Jack actually does need to bring a dessert to a summer barbecue some of his teammates are having to celebrate the end of the season.
He could just pick one up at the grocery store or the neighborhood bakery, but this guy — Eric — has also posted a few pictures of his pies and they look amazing. There are also a few endorsements from friends who apparently think being the recipient of an Eric Bittle pie is equivalent to winning the lottery.
So Jack messages the guy. It could be a very elaborate scam, but if it were a scam, would he really make up a recommendation from a person named “Shitty?”
Over the next few days, they exchange a few details about Jack’s order. Meanwhile, a few happy neighbors have posted to the Facebook group that they enjoyed their pies, so Jack figures it’s all on the up and up. He and the pie guy exchange numbers and make plans for Jack to pick the pie up from his place.
Eric rents a room in a home only a few blocks away from Marty’s. It’s an older neighborhood on a quiet street, full of the sort of homes Jack thinks he might like to live in someday, if he ever needs a place big enough for more than one person. He easily finds the address Eric texted to him and parks on the side of the street. He can see the pie on the porch from here.
He smiles when he sees the sticky note attached. It — along with the pie — is the first tangible evidence that Eric Bittle is a real person. He sticks the note to his dashboard and carefully sets the pie on the passenger seat. It’s still warm. By the time he arrives at Marty’s, his car smells of sweet apples and just a hint of spice.
“Damn, Jack, this pie is amazing. Did you get it at that bakery by your place?” Marty appears to be in a state of near ecstasy as he finishes off his slice of Eric’s pie. It was by far the most popular dessert at the party. So popular, in fact, that the vultures dug into it while Jack was still in the pool playing with the kids and all that was left when he got out was the empty tin.
“Ah, no. A friend made it.” That doesn’t sound too weird, right? He can’t exactly tell his friends it was made by a stranger from the internet.
Tater perks up at this. “A special friend?” he asks, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively.
“Just a friend, Tater.”
“A girlfriend?” Thirdy asks.
“Could be boyfriend,” Tater says. “Is it boyfriend?”
“It’s nobody,” Jack says, embarrassed now. Next time he’ll just pick something up from Stop & Shop if it will get everybody to shut up about his love life.
“Ignore their chirping, Jack,” Carrie Robinson says, coming up behind him and giving his shoulder a little squeeze. “Boyfriend, girlfriend, you know you could have brought them. We don’t bite.”
“Please bring them next time,” Marty pleads. “I need more of this pie.”
“Marry them,” Thirdy says. “If you don’t, I may have to divorce my wife and marry them myself.”
“Hey!” Carrie swats the back of her husband’s head with the pool noodle she’s holding. “But seriously, Jack, just invite them next time.”
Jack turns his attention to the kids still playing in the pool. Thirdy and Carrie’s oldest daughter, Dani, is rounding up all the younger kids for a game of Marco Polo. "I'm going in the pool," he says.
Jack would write his strange pie acquisition off as a one-and-done thing, but a few days later he remembers his assistant general manager's birthday is coming up. George isn't just his boss, she's one of his best friends. Is a pie a good gift? He usually just gives her a gift card for a nice dinner with her partner but they might like pie instead, right?
The chocolate silk is exquisite. Jack is beginning to wonder how Eric finds the time. Does the guy sleep? The pie he took to Marty’s party had had a fancy lattice topped with coarse sugar. This one is topped with an intricate whipped cream pattern and chocolate curls. It's almost too pretty to eat. He carefully drives to George’s house, mindful of the amount of time Eric must have put in to get it to look like this.
George loves it. “This one’s a keeper,” she says with a wink.
He thinks she's talking about the pie, although he wouldn't really know. Two pies now, and a bite has yet to cross his lips.
The mini pies turn out to be exactly as good as everyone led Jack to believe. He ends up eating one after his workout, and another after dinner. In the morning, he texts Eric again.
The thing is, Jack really does like the pie. It's amazing. But he's also starting to like Eric. The guy could be an axe murderer for all he knows, but he also seems really sweet and Jack looks forward to hearing from him. Maybe that's why he keeps finding reasons to order pies.
Jack’s parents are rich and mostly retired. That’s the only explanation he has for their frequent visits. That, and some lingering impulse to check up on him. To be fair, he would probably do the same for his only child.
They’re nice visits, though. He knows the public perception of wealthy people, that they must lead exotic, over-the-top lives of excess, but the Zimmermanns have always been down to earth. Maybe it’s because of the hockey. Maybe it’s because Alicia Zimmermann is, in his father’s words, “an absolute dork.” In any case, their preferred way to spend a Friday night is with take-out and a game of Rummikub.
“This is delicious, Jack,” his father says, serving himself a second slice of strawberry rhubarb pie. “Where did you say it came from?”
“Uh …” Jack wrestles between telling the truth and saying it came from a bakery and decides his parents won’t care that it was made by a stranger, will probably even find it charming. “There’s this neighborhood Facebook group, where people can post about lost dogs and yard sales and stuff. A few weeks ago this guy posted about making pies. I took one to the St. Martins’ party a few weeks ago and everyone liked it so I ordered another one.”
“So this person sells pies on Facebook?” Alicia looks a little confused.
“He doesn’t sell them,” Jack clarifies. Maybe the truth wasn’t the best way to go. “He’s just a guy who likes to bake.”
“He really should sell them,” Bob says. “This is the best pie I’ve ever had.”
“I don’t think he wants to sell them. I think he just does it to be nice.”
“How many pies has this man made you?” Alicia asks.
Jack does the mental math. There was the first pie for the party, and the one for George’s birthday, then the mini pies. A lot of mini pies. And now this one.
“Four or five.” Those mini pies don’t count as individual pies, right?
“And he’s never asked for payment?”
“He said in his original post that he doesn’t want money. But I gave him money, once, that he just returned the next time he made me a pie. I never really thought about it before, but butter’s expensive.”
“I’d love to meet this guy and ask him about his crust,” Bob says. “I’ve never been able to get mine this light.”
Jack studies his tiles. “I’d like to meet him too,” he says carefully.
Both of his parents immediately turn to him with identical concerned expressions on their faces. “So,” his father says. “You order pies, for free —”
“— He said he tried to pay him, Bobby.”
“You buy pies from a stranger you know from the internet, and he somehow gets them to you, and you’ve never met him. Do you realize how many crazy people are online? You could have invited the Craigslist Killer into your life.”
“Says the man who used Twitter to ask all of Montreal if they wanted fresh eggs,” Alicia mutters under her breath.
“We just have so many chickens,” Bob protests.
Jack feels compelled to reiterate to his parents that all of this is normal. “We text every day. It’s not like he’s a stranger. He’s Eric.” Jack digs into his pocket and pulls out his phone. There’s actually a new message from Eric. “See?” he says, showing his parents the screen. “He said he hopes you like your pie. And then there’s a little picture of a pie.”
“Tell him it was lovely,” Alicia says. “And give him some money for supplies, if this is going to be a thing.” She returns her attention to the game. “Who’s turn is it?”
The Robinsons invite Jack to a pool party in late July. "You should bring your pie friend," Thirdy suggests.
"Find your own pie friend," Jack fires back.
"You sound a little jealous there, man. You sure there's nothing there?"
Jack is starting to think there may be something there. He talks to Eric almost daily. Most of the time, now, they don't even talk about pie. They talk about really mundane things like Jack's pre-season conditioning and the lesson plans Eric's updating for next year's AP U.S. History class. He thinks Eric enjoys whatever this is they have going on too, because sometimes he'll send a picture of the pie he's working on, or initiate a day-long conversation about their favorite Drunk History episodes. So maybe asking Eric to join him — as his date — wouldn’t be the worst thing. (At the very least, he might get another pie out of it?)
Jack has done a lot of questionable things in his life — a lot of them, admittedly, when he was a teenager in the Q — but asking his secret pie dealer out on a blind date is probably in the top five. Saturday’s barbecue at Thirdy’s house is supposed to be a low-key affair, so Jack dresses casually in jeans and a t-shirt and brings his swim trunks to change into. He feels an anxious sort of buzz in his head as he drives to Eric’s apartment to pick him up. It’s strange knocking on the door, knowing somebody is on the other side waiting for him.
That someone, Jack realizes with a little lurch, is really cute.
It’s not like he didn’t know what Eric looks like. But until this moment Eric has been a small profile picture on Facebook. Now he’s a very real man standing in front of Jack, wearing a striped tank top and cutoffs and smiling so wide Jack thinks his heart might explode. He’s shorter than Jack, with the physique of somebody who works out pretty regularly. Jack recalls him mentioning he used to play hockey. Maybe he’ll want to join him for family skate sometime.
Wow, is he getting ahead of himself here.
“Hi, Jack!” Eric greets him. He has a pie carrier in one hand and a well-worn backpack slung over one shoulder. “It’s really nice to finally meet you.”
“You look like your profile picture,” is all Jack can think to say.
“You, sir, look nothing like your profile picture.”
“Oh.” Jack recalls, vaguely, that his profile picture is still a photograph of a tree and street lamp he took three years ago. “Ha ha.”
“But I looked you up. Your new haircut is really nice.” Eric blushes a little.
“You look nice too,” Jack replies.
“I've got a swim suit and my towel, and a pie of course," Eric says, lifting the carrier. "Do you think I'll need anything else?”
“As long as you have a strong tolerance for chirps? They're relentless.”
“I can hold my own with hockey players, Mr. Zimmermann,” Eric says with a wink.
“Then you'll fit right in.” Jack leads the way to his car, feeling good about whatever this is they're beginning.
The back gate is open when they arrive so they walk in, where the kids are the first to greet them. “Uncle Jack!” Dani waves madly from the pool. “Uncle Jack! Come in and play The Water is Lava with us!”
Eric grins. “The Water is Lava?”
“They jump in the pool and I have to catch them. Because the water is lava.”
“Of course,” Eric says.
“Do you mind?” Jack asks. “It’s kind of tradition.”
“Lord, no. I think it’s adorable. I’ll even join you. It’s been forever since I’ve played The Water is Lava.” He winks at Jack and approaches the pool. “Do you think I can play?” he asks, squatting down so he’s at Dani Robinson’s eye level. “I’m a friend of Jack’s.”
Dani shrugs. “Sure, okay. As long as you don’t drop us. Daddy always drops us on purpose.”
“I won’t drop you unless you want to be dropped,” Eric promises. “But I have to tell you, I might need somebody to protect me from that shark over there. Maybe you can fight him off while we change into our swim suits.”
Jack smiles to himself as the kids shriek and splash to get away from the invisible shark.
“Bringing Eric was a good idea,” Carrie says a little later. “The kids love him.”
“Yeah,” Jack says, following her gaze to the grill, where Eric is deep in conversation with Thirdy.
“I’m telling you,” Marty says, handing Jack another beer, “marry him. Makes great pie, good with kids, the guy even played hockey. I’m surprised he’s still single.”
“He’s not single, he’s dating Jack,” Carrie says.
“It’s only our first date,” Jack says. Is it a date? He told Eric it was a date, when he asked him, but maybe now that they’ve met Eric doesn’t want it to be a date.
He does seem to be getting along with Jack’s friends, though, so that can only be a good sign, right?
Eric must feel Jack’s gaze on him from across the yard because he suddenly looks up and waves.
Carrie nudges Jack. “You’re staring, Jack.”
“First date,” Marty snorts. “Jack is so far gone on this guy, they’ll be engaged by this time next year.”
“Before playoffs or after, do you think?”
“Oh, if he’s having a great season, before, definitely.”
This time, Jack doesn’t even bother to protest.
“I really like your friends,” Eric says on the drive back to his place.
“I hope it wasn’t too awkward for you,” Jack says, trying to keep it light but knowing he has to bring up the thing he’s been avoiding talking about. “They kept asking to meet you. They think we've been dating for months.”
“I think it’s sweet,” Eric says. “Clearly they want you to be happy. And …”
“Sweetheart, we’ve been flirting via text for weeks. If you hadn’t asked me out when you did, I was gonna ask you out.”
“Yeah?” There’s Jack’s heart, rattling away like he’s just run a 5K again.
“One of the people who ordered a pie gave me a Chili’s gift card. I know it’s Chili’s but …”
“I love Chili’s,” Jack says, sincerely.
“I really like their chicken tenders. And that soup?”
“Oh my god, I’m dating a man who loves unironically loves Chili’s.”
Jack huffs out a laugh. “There's this nice Moroccan place I like to go to when my parents are in town. Maybe that can be our second date. Save Chili's for a special occasion.”
Eric shakes his head. “I really like you, Jack.”
Jack feels warm all over as he turns on to Eric's street. “I really like you, too.” He parallel parks on the side of the street, wondering if the night's over, but Eric settles that question before he can ask.
“So, Jack.” Eric places a hand on Jack’s knee and smiles a little tentatively. “Would you like to come in for a slice of pie?”
“The things I do for you, Mr. Zimmermann,” Eric grumbles as he comes upstairs with a large slice of pie and two forks. He’s smiling, though, as he sets the plate on the nightstand. "Was this just a ploy to get me to come to bed?"
“I'm leaving on a roadie tomorrow,” Jack says. He tugs Eric down next to him. "Wanted you here with me right now.”
“And the pie?” Eric's eyes dart back toward the plate.
“The pie —” Jack kisses Eric’s neck “— can wait —” he nibbles at his ear “— until later.”
Eric giggles and rolls over so he's on top of Jack. “It'll be here when you get back from that roadie,” he promises, lowering himself until their foreheads touch, “and I will, too.”